Washington, D.C. - USA - United States First Lady Laura Bush says Africare’s work to improve opportunities for women and girls is an advancement of its goals.">

"Do Not Celebrate Me or My Presidency; Celebrate the Liberian People," President Sirleaf Urges Audience

Monday, 22nd October 2007
President Ellen Johnson receives the 2007 Bishop John T. Walker Humanitarian Award.
President Ellen Johnson receives the 2007 Bishop John T. Walker Humanitarian Award.
Photo Credit: Adama B. Thompson/Executive Mansion

Washington, D.C. - USA - United States First Lady Laura Bush says Africare’s goals of improving opportunities for women and girls was further advanced by honoring Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Bush described President Johnson Sirleaf as an outstanding African woman who is a role model for girls everywhere. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mrs. Bush said, is one of the world’s most distinguished leaders who has always been devoted to her nation in the various capacities she served her country.

An Executive Mansion dispatch from Washington says Mrs. Bush was speaking Thursday night at a Gala Dinner to honor the Liberian leader. The U.S. first lady lauded President Johnson Sirleaf for her immense courage and determination to address Liberia's education needs. The United States and its people, Mrs. Bush said, stand with the people of Liberia and President Johnson Sirleaf as she rebuilds the country.

The first lady, also an educator, announced that Liberia is one of six fast-track African countries that will benefit from a financial package of $425 million dollars provided by the United States government to train teachers and improve illiteracy. The goal of the Basic Education Initiative, Mrs. Bush said, is to reach four million children over the next five years and to support countries that make education a priority.

Mrs. Bush, who also commended President Sirleaf’s efforts to rebuild the health infrastructure of the country, said the United States is partnering with Liberia to support health clinics and to provide preventive care in rural communities. Liberia, the first lady disclosed, will receive one million dollars next year for the Emergency Plan for AIDS relief, a $1.2 billion dollar program intended to reduce malaria related deaths to over half in 15 African countries in five years.

Other speakers paying homage to the Liberian President at the occasion included the Director of the Food & Agriculture Organization, Mr. Jacque Diouf; the Chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Operations, Nita Lowey; as well as Billionaire Bob Johnson, who renewed his call to work towards making Liberia a success story. Mr. Johnson observed that the sacrifices small countries make to contribute to freedom in America are easily forgotten. “We have an obligation to stand with Liberia as President Sirleaf and Liberia stood with us,” Mr. Johnson emphasized.

He said he and other African-Americans are working towards building a strong advocacy group for Liberia that will serve generations to come, to advocate for Liberia as Jewish-Americans advocate for Israel. As part of the advocacy, Mr. Johnson said the American airline Delta, which already flies to Ghana, will be persuaded to make stops in Monrovia. This, he said, will ease the inconveniences the President and other Liberians experience when traveling to the United States and other parts of the world. “It is not only a good business decision, but fundamentally in U.S. national interest,” Mr. Johnson maintained.  The American billionaire said he and other influential African-Americans will continue to press for a further extension of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians living in the United States, and advocate for Liberia to host AFRICOM. Such a move, Mr. Johnson said, will help President Sirleaf’s efforts to bolster security in Liberia and provide increased support for training of the police and the army.

Mr. Johnson also lauded the courage of Liberians as they move the country forward. ‘The people of Liberia have said loud and clear, no more war.” He said the United States needs to help ensure that Liberians reap the full benefits of embracing peace.

In accepting the John T. Walker Humanitarian Award, the President lauded Africare for its humanitarian work in Africa and Liberia in particular. President Johnson Sirleaf also thanked all those who have contributed to bringing peace to Liberia including African leaders, whom she recalled decided that enough was enough. She welcomed the decision by the Bush administration to include Liberia on the Basic Education Initiative. The President also praised Bob Johnson and other private Americans for their advocacy for Liberia.

On the lingering debt problem, the President said much progress has been made toward relieving Liberia of its debt burden, but stressed that the IMF and other institutions must redouble their efforts to settle the debt issue. A $64 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR) gap still needs to be filled to qualify Liberia for a debt waiver.

The President welcomed the international goodwill toward her country, but emphasized the need to “follow up and follow through.”   Liberia, the President cautioned, has one last chance to consolidate the peace, “and we only have a short chance; we are in a race against time.”

Meanwhile, the President has paid homage to Liberians for their courage over the years during the country’s civil conflict.  “Tonight, I ask you not to celebrate me or my presidency, but to celebrate the Liberian people, because they have suffered through so much and granted me the privilege to serve my country, and it is their support and hope for a better future that I need to sustain,” the President reiterated. On her legacy, the President said historians will be the judge. The Liberian leader, however, expressed the hope that she will be remembered for raising the bar on good governance in Liberia and across the continent; for turning a failed state into a thriving democracy with a vibrant, diversified public sector driven economy; for sending children back to school and for returning basic services to the country, where the rule of law is respected.

Africare officials say Thursday night’s dinner, which raised more than $1.2 million, attracted more guests than the previous five years.

The President has meanwhile been holding discussions with senior U.S. government officials and members of international financial institutions, including World Bank President Robert Zoellick; Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson; Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; as well as Congressional leaders.

The Liberian President travels to Memphis, Tennessee on Monday to receive the 2007 Freedom Award, along with NBA legend Magic Johnson and Dr. John Hope Franklin, an educator and distinguished author best known for his book, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans."

The Liberian leader will be joining a distinguished list of recipients of the Freedom Award, including Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Bono, and Oprah Winfrey, among others.